I’ve had the pleasure of playing a variety of games over the past two months so I thought I’d combine a few thoughts here into a collection of mini-reviews. I’m splitting the games into three buckets: new-to-me, old favorites, and kids gaming. As usual, I have a few games that I heartily recommend and a few that I’d rather never play again. Here’s some quick thoughts on some recent games played.
- Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Collector’s Edition – This game is beautiful and extravagant, and the gameplay really hits the sweet spot for me. I enjoy the varied castles that everyone builds, and I enjoy the challenge of pricing the rooms well. The component quality is phenomenal, and the variety of included expansions is really nice. I wish the gameplay was more compelling with just two players, but with 3-4 people, it’s a keeper for sure.
- Everdell – I had been wanting to try Everdell for the last couple years, given how highly it is ranked and how beautiful the artwork is. I finally caved and bought a copy since I hadn’t happened upon a friend with a copy, and I played it 4 times in the past month. I disliked the experience more than just about any game in recent memory. I kept trying it to be really sure, but it’s just incredibly extraordinarily not for me! The extreme randomness of whether you get free building-to-critter chains and whether you complete special event pairs was maddening. There are so many better worker placement, resource collection games that I cannot imagine wanting to play this ever again.
- Stella – I adore Stella. I’ve always liked Dixit, and I think that Stella might be even better, especially for groups that are not creatively inclined to coming up with their own Dixit clues. The ease of entry for Stella is superb. I think this will be a perfect Thanksgiving family game. The post-round discussion and debate of how could no one have selected X card or why on Earth someone selected Y card is a joy. I’m so glad that I finally picked up a copy of Stella on a whim.
- Minigolf Designer – This is a really solid tile-laying game that gives me pleasant Carcassonne vibes, but is even more friendly because you each build in your own tile area. The whimsical artwork and client cards add to the experience, and the tile drafting makes the game just interactive enough to feel like this fairly solitaire game has you still playing together with your friends and family.
- Doodle Dash – This Pictionary-like game was way more fun than it had any right to be. I did not have high hopes for this drawing game, but it quickly had the whole table laughing with how ridiculously incomprehensible some people’s super quick drawings were. The twist here is reminiscent of Pix, but totally changes the way the game plays because the rules strongly incentivize extremely fast drawing, which ultimately negates the need for any real drawing skill. This fast romp is really worth trying even if you’re entirely skeptical of a drawing game.
- 9 Lives – I wanted to like this trick-taking game, but much like Ghosts of Christmas, it was not really enjoyable at all. The artwork is beautiful, but I’m just sick of the same old trick-taking trope of predicting how many tricks you’ll win round after round. I much prefer trick-taking games that break the mold like Was Sticht, Njet, and The Crew. Lack of clarity in the rules and overly familiar gameplay left me feeling cold with this gorgeous card game.
- Exploring Galapagos – This was a lovely Button Shy game. Unlike Everdell and 9 Lives, the lush artwork was backed up by solid gameplay. I had the pleasure of playtesting a rules change with the designers intended to improve the balance, and I’m happy to report that the new playtest rules worked beautifully. This game embodies what Button Shy is all about to me, which is clever and fun ways to use 18 cards that keep you engaged and thinking throughout plus eager to try it again.
- Parks: Wildlife – I’m really starting to enjoy Parks a lot more now that I’m using the Wildlife and Nightfall expansions. The base game was a bit lackluster, but the Nightfall expansion made the game a lot more interesting with the campsites. While the Wildlife expansion does not improve the game nearly as much as Nightfall, I nonetheless think it’s a worthwhile addition to flesh out the game. With the two expansions combined, I think the game is finally meaty enough to deliver challenging and meaningful decision-making that will make the game worth coming back to.
I had the opportunity to play a variety of old favorites in the past two months. The quick and lovely two-player games that I returned to were Santorini, Cities, Fjords, 7 Wonders Duel, Aton, and StreetSoccer. I think those six games are top tier two-player games for a 30-minute experience. The variety of Santorini, tile-laying of Cities and Fjords, civ building of 7 Wonders Duel, tense decisions of Aton, and joy of StreetSoccer are all a real pleasure.
I also returned to a variety of light to middle-weight games, including Azul, Cartographers, Lost Ruins of Arnak, QE, Remember Our Trip, Scout, Sagrada, and Sushi Go. I particularly love the drawing of Cartographers, the arc of Lost Ruins, the brilliance of QE, the quirkiness of Remember Our Trip, and the cleverness of Scout. These are games that I expect to return to again and again in the years to come.
Lastly, I got Star Wars: Rebellion back to the table for my 13th play after going 3 years without playing it. I enjoyed the game in 2016-2019, but tired of it, and was happy to finally play it again. I still think the gameplay is not as interesting as War of the Ring, and the base game favors the dark side substantially, so it’s yet another FFG game that needs the expansion, which is their standard operating procedure. The integration of theme and mechanics is top notch though for sure.
I had the pleasure of playing 11 different games with my seven-year-old over the past couple months. My favorites of the bunch were definitely Pyramid of Pengqueen, King of Tokyo, and Anomia. I think the asymmetric gameplay of Pyramid of Pengqueen is so perfectly implemented in this great children’s game. I just wish the tiny magnets were a bit larger and easier to move around.
I think my kid’s favorites were Tiny Ninjas, Colorful, Hues & Cues, and Battleball. He really enjoyed the variety of ninjas in Tiny Ninjas along with the dice-rolling combat, and he loves the colors and gameplay in both Colorful and Hues & Cues. The remaining games played were Blokus Trigon, Kissenschlacht, Magic Labyrinth, and Mastermind – all of which seemed to go over fairly well too. The pillow-flinging catapults in Kissenschlacht are certainly a hit, even without adhering closely to the game’s rules as written. Mastermind is a nice next step from Outfoxed in terms of reasoning and puzzle-solving. I hope to get Sync or Swim back to the table in the coming months, along with more King of Tokyo and Pyramid of Pengqueen for sure!